Ochenski: Down the rabbit hole

With a brief speech, the war train starts rolling

| March 20, 2003

When Alice followed the tardy rabbit into his hole, her world turned upside down. Finding herself surrounded by hookah-puffing caterpillars, Mad Hatters, and a vicious “off with their heads” Red Queen, the heroine of this little tale understandably perceived that everything had changed, nothing was what it seemed, and the further she went the weirder it got. For anyone who watched President Bush’s brief Iraq ultimatum, it is just as undeniable that our country is fully down the rabbit hole and that we, like Alice, have now had our world turned upside down.

The speech itself was nothing much to remember. A stilted George Bush, staring dead ahead into the teleprompter, read to the best of his ability line after line of the short address. His emotionless delivery belied the tremendous impacts that would follow on the heels of his words. But already, those impacts have begun.

Within hours of the speech, an enraged Yemeni shot dead an American and a Canadian working for the Hunt Oil Co. in Yemen and then killed himself. Did he know that Canada, our closest neighbor sharing the longest contiguous border with our country, does not support Bush’s plans to attack Iraq? The answer is probably “no.” The Yemeni, like many around the world who have already been incensed to violence over America’s new and equally violent course in the world, likely drew no distinction between Westerners. And so an innocent Canadian is dead—not the first, and not by any means the last, for the simple reason that he looked like an American.

In China, the new Prime Minister described the situation following Bush’s ultimatum as “the arrow in the bow.” Courageously, this new leader said the world must continue to do everything possible to keep that arrow from flying to its target and return to attempts to resolve the situation diplomatically.

Nor was China alone. Russia, France, Germany, Indonesia (the most populous Muslim country in the world), and scores of other nations, including our other closest neighbor, Mexico, share opposition to a U.S. pre-emptive attack on Iraq and plead for continuing efforts to find diplomatic solutions to the problem. Even the Pope, who is totally against invading Iraq, has said that God will not be on our side in waging this war. But of course, our own version of the Mad Hatter hears little of the world’s protests and cares even less.

Here at home, the campaigns of fear and tension are likewise on the rise. The “terror alert” standard went to “high risk” immediately following Bush’s speech. The president has told governors to call out the National Guard to protect likely terrorist targets. Given the high level of paranoia and fear that already permeates much of the nation, the specter of armed soldiers on our streets is unlikely to make us feel more secure.

The truth, of course, is that Bush’s war will not make us more secure in any regard, despite his upside-down reasoning that would have it be so. If anything, attacking Iraq puts our nation squarely in the bulls-eye for those who wish to strike back against America’s unbridled use of its superpower armaments.

Here at home, we will probably experience a further destruction of our freedoms. Already Attorney General Ashcroft has been let loose like a baying hound, peeking into our luggage, reading our e-mails, checking out which Web sites we visit, where we shop, what we buy, and who we call. When the bombs begin to fall, we will be told that we need to “stand behind our troops” and “peaceniks” will be targeted and ultimately silenced. The feeble congressional Democrats, who should be the countervailing voice of reason to Bush’s international aggression, seem deaf to the chorus of dissent from the world at large and say they will become even quieter now, when we need them most. What’s at stake, after all, is the long-term standing of our nation in the eyes of the world—and already through their silent complicity, that standing has suffered immeasurably.

What will happen abroad is unpredictable. Optimists say a quick war is in order—something like a football game between an NFL team and a bunch of Class C high-schoolers. Others say we will be in Iraq for the next 25 years—sitting like a fat spider on the world’s second largest oil supply and doing just what Bush promised not to do when he campaigned for president—nation building in a vain attempt to bring democracy to the Middle East. What seems clear is that no one down in the rabbit hole knows for sure where America is going, why we are going there, how long we will be there, or how we will ever get out again.

What also seems clear is that we have dragged the institutions of international peace and cooperation down the hole with us. The United Nations Security Council may well be only a memory by the time all is said and done. In just two years under Bush’s “reign of error” we have backed out of international treaties on weapons, global warming, and trade. Even the staid World Trade Organization has warned that war in Iraq will destabilize and seriously threaten the international marketplace.

But nothing seems to matter to the Maddest of all Hatters. Anyone who saw Bush’s fixed stare and glassy eyes saw it all, and nothing anyone says or does will turn his war train around. In the upside-down vernacular of the rabbit hole, war is peace, aggression is defense, and killing tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians—where 50 percent of the population is under the age of 15—is a brave act to make the world a safer place.

We are down the rabbit hole and nothing, for some time to come, will be what it seems. The further down we go, the worse it’s going to get—and we are going much, much further down.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.,/i>

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